The top scientific groups from the G8 countries say funding for maternal and child health, including initiatives aimed at unsafe abortions, must increase.

The Royal Society of Canada and its counterparts in the other G8 countries note that the risk of a woman dying as a result of pregnancy or childbirth is one in seven in the poorest parts of the world and is more than 80 per cent preventable.

A statement from the groups says up to 40 per cent of maternal and infant deaths could be averted with improved access to contraception and measures to reduce unsafe abortion.

The statement says abortions performed by unskilled providers or under unhygienic conditions because of local laws banning abortions account for 13 per cent of maternal deaths.

The Conservative government has excluded abortion funding in its G8 maternal- and child-health initiative.

The scientific groups say governments and inter-governmental and non-governmental organizations must deal openly with unsafe abortions, and ensure appropriate and accessible treatment of women who develop complications.

"Provision of effective contraception for approximately 200 million women who have none would prevent 23 million unplanned births, 22 million induced abortions and 14,000 pregnancy-related maternal deaths each year," the statement, released late Tuesday, reads.

Mortality reduction targets set

The scientific groups also say practices such as female genital mutilation should be eradicated and the misuse of technology of prenatal sex determination for aborting female fetuses should be condemned.

The Royal Society of Canada is the country's senior national body of distinguished scholars, artists and scientists. Its objective is to promote learning and research in the arts and sciences.

The statement says the community shaping global political priorities for the health of women and children has been fragmented.

"G8 governments should work with international agencies to facilitate regional co-ordination mechanisms for women and children's health," it says.

The goal should be reducing child mortality by two-thirds and maternal mortality by three-quarters by 2015.

Documents obtained recently by The Canadian Press through access-to-information show the government ignored the advice of its own civil servants in taking its decision to exclude abortion funding.

Briefing notes prepared in January by the Canadian International Development Agency for International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda suggest access to safe abortion services could save many lives in developing countries.

But appearing before a parliamentary committee Wednesday, two Tory cabinet ministers and CIDA's president offered little insight as to why the government excluded the abortion funding.

CIDA's Margaret Biggs testified that her agency simply provides information, while the government makes the decisions.

Oda supported Biggs's response Wednesday, but refused to say who made the final decision when she was grilled on the issue after leaving the meeting.

Opposition MPs present at the parliamentary committee were not satisfied with Oda's answers.

Leaders of the world's G8 and G20 nations gather next month in Ontario.